CURTIS, THOMAS JERRY Name: Thomas Jerry Curtis Rank/Branch: 03/US Air Force Unit: Det 3 38th ARS Date of Birth: 24 August 1932 Home City of Record: Houston TX Date of Loss: 20 September 1965 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 180500N 1054400E (WF775009) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: HH43B Other Personnel in Incident: Duane W. Martin, POW/MIA; William A. Robinson; Arthur N. Black (returned POWs) REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY DRV Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 2008. SYNOPSIS: On September 20, 1965, 1Lt. Duane W. Martin, co-pilot; Capt. Thomas J. Curtis, pilot; SSgt. William A. Robinson, flight engineer; and Airman Arthur N. Black, pararescue; comprised the crew and passengers of an HH43B "Huskie" helicopter operating about 10 miles from the border of Laos in Ha Tinh Province, North Vietnam. The Huskie is typically a crash rescue helicopter, and although it was considered to be inadequate for Southeast Asia duty, the Air Force had no other options at the time. The increase in combat called for an ever increasing need for rescue services. Some of the Huskies were shored up with heavy armor plate to protect the crews, and outfitted with long cables to facilitate rescue in the high rain forest. During the period Martin, Curtis, Robinson and Black were on their mission in Ha Tinh Province, most of the rescue crews were dispatched out of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand and Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, both being stop-gap installations until the primary rescue agency, 3rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group was formed at Tan Son Nhut in January 1966. Public records do not indicate the precise nature of the mission undertaken on September 20, 1965, but the HH43B went down near the city of Tan An, and all four personnel aboard the aircraft were captured. It is not clear if the four were captured by North Vietnamese or Pathet Lao troops or a combination of the two. Duane W. Martin was taken to a camp controlled by Pathet Lao. Curtis, Robinson and Black were released in 1973 by the North Vietnamese, and were in the Hanoi prison system as early as 1967. Duane Martin found himself held by the Pathet Lao with other Americans. Some of them had been held for more than two years. (Note: This would indicate that there were Americans in this camp who had been captured in 1964. The only American officially listed as captured in Laos in 1964 is Navy Lt. Charles F. Klushann, who was captured in June 1964 and escaped in August 1964. Source for the "two years" information is Mersky & Polmer's "The Naval Air War in Vietnam", and this source does not identify any Americans by name who had been held "for more than two years". Civilian Eugene DeBruin, an acknowledged Laos POW, had been captured in the fall of 1963. Dengler has stated that a red-bearded DeBruin was held in one of the camps in which he was held. All previous Laos loss incidents occurred in 1961 and 1962.) One American who joined the group in February 1966 was U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Dieter Dengler. Lt. Dengler had launched on February 1, 1966 from the aircraft carrier USS RANGER in an A1H Skyraider as part of an interdiction mission near the border of Laos. Ground fire severely damaged his aircraft, and he was forced to crash land in Laos. Although he had successfully evaded capture through that night, he was finally caught by Pathet Lao troops, who tortured him as they force-marched him through several villages. Throughout the fall of 1965 and into spring and summer of 1966, the group of Americans suffered regular beatings, torture, harassment, hunger and illness in the hands of their captors. According to an "American Opinion" special report entitled "The Code" (June 1973), Dengler witnessed his captors behead an American Navy pilot and execute six wounded Marines. (Note: no other source information available at time of writing reveals the names of these seven Americans.) On June 29, 1965, after hearing the prisoners were to be killed, Martin and Dengler and unnamed others (Eugene DeBruin was apparently part of this group, but was recaptured, and according to information received by his family, was alive at least until January 1968, when he was taken away with other prisoners by North Vietnamese regular army troops.) decided to make their escape in a hail of gunfire in which six communist guards were killed. Dengler was seriously ill with jaundice, and Martin was sick with malaria. Dengler and Martin and the others made their way through the dense jungle surviving on fruits, berries, and some rice they had managed to save during their captivity. They floated down river on a raft they had constructed, eventually coming to an abandoned village where the men found some corn. After a night's rest, Dengler and Martin made their way downstream to another village. This settlement was occupied, however, and the two Americans were suddenly attacked by a villager with a machete. Dengler managed to escape back into the jungle, but Martin was fatally wounded by the assailant. It had been 18 days since their escape. Dengler made his way alone, and on the 22 day, with his strength almost gone, he was able to form an SOS with some rocks, and waited, exausted to be rescued or die. Luck was with him, for by late morning, an Air Force A1E spotted the signal and directed a helicopter to pick up Dengler. He weighed 98 pounds. When he had launched from his aircraft carrier 5 months earlier, he had weighed 157 pounds. Curtis, Robinson and Black were released from Hanoi on February 12, 1973, over seven years from the time of their capture. Lt. Duane Martin's fate remains uncertain. If, as reported, he was killed during the escape attempt, no effort has been made by the Lao to return his body. Martin is one of nearly 600 Americans who remain prisoner, missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Laos. Although the U.S. maintained only a handful of these men in POW status, over 100 were known to have survived their loss incident. The Pathet Lao stated during the war that they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, but they would be released only from Laos (meaning that the U.S. must negotiate directly with the Pathet Lao). The Pathet Lao were not part of the agreements that ended American involvement in Southeast Asia, and no negotiations have been conducted with them since for the prisoners they held. Reports continue to come in related to missing Americans in Southeast Asia. It does not seem likely that Martin is among the hundreds thought by many authorities to be still alive, but what would he think of the abandonment of his fellow Americans. Are we doing enough to bring these men home?
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977 Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602 Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and spelling errors). THOMAS J. CURTIS Lieutenant Colonel - United States Air Force Shot down: September 20, 1965 Released: February 12, 1973 PERSONAL BACKGROUND: Born 24 August 1932, reared in Houston, Texas, attended University of Houston two years, majored in Diesel Electric Engineering. Enlisted as a pilot (Aviation Cadet) 30 October 1952. Received Wings and Commission 18 December 1954 at Bryan AFB, Texas. ASSIGNMENTS: December 1954 - September 1956 at Ellington AFB, Texas. Duty as HU-16 and H-19 pilot with the 47th Air Rescue Squadron, MAC. September 1956 - April 1958, T-29 pilot and instructor with the 3608th Navigator Training Squadron (Flying Support), Ellington AFB, Texas, Air Training Command. April 1958 September 1959, same duty at Mather AFB, California. September 1959 - September 1962, with the 38th Tactical Missile Wing, USAFE, Sembach Air Base, Germany, duty as a T-33 simulated missile pilot and Base Operations Officer. September 1962 - April 1965, Commander, Det. 9, Central Air Rescue Center, MAC, England AFB, Louisiana. Volunteered for TDY to Southeast Asia as Rescue Crew Commander in HH-43B aircraft at Nakhan Phanon, Thailand. Was shot down 20 September 1965. Was released 12 February 1973. FUTURE PLANS: Air War College in August 1973 at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, then remain in Prattville, Alabama for completion of undergraduate work at Troy State University. Will remain in USAF until retirement in 1982. FAMILY: Wife, Terry, son, Tom 16, daughter, Lori 13. Terry and I were married in Houston, Texas 12 April 1957, and we call Houston our hometown; however, she and the children have lived in Alexandria, Louisiana since 1962. THOUGHTS: My joy in being home is interrupted almost daily as I think of the families of our men who did not return. My heart goes out to them, as their waiting has not ended. To these brave families, my most sincere salute. ===================== Fearful that remaining in the military would someday send him back into combat, Thomas Curtis retired early from the military, and taught school for 11 years. He and his wife Terry reside in Texas. =====================